Former judge wants backpay over Mbeki discharge refusal

Former judge Willem Heath (File, Gallo Images)
Former judge Willem Heath (File, Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Former judge Willem Heath is challenging former president Thabo Mbeki's refusal in 2001 of his request to be discharged from the bench, in a review application heard in the Western Cape High Court on Friday.

The application was brought against the President and the Minister of Justice, but at its core, is Heath's unhappiness that Mbeki, the president at the time, refused to discharge him, based on the advice of then-Justice Minister Penuell Maduna.

He eventually resigned as a judge.

READ: Mbeki to Heath: 'You can't go'

If he had been discharged, he would have received various benefits that discharged judges are entitled to, but because he eventually resigned, he was not entitled to these benefits.

His legal representative Advocate Thulani Masuku told the three judges hearing the application - judges Elizabeth Baartman, Daniel Dlodlo and Patric Gamble - that Heath took a financial knock after his resignation as a judge.

Benefits 

He also felt his reputation as a judge of 30 years had been impugned by apparent criticism Mbeki directed at him.

In Friday's application for a review, he also wanted damages to be awarded in the form of the benefits he would have received if he had been discharged - back dated.

Friday's case dredged up the tumultuous events of the early stages of the arms deal probe which drove a wedge between Mbeki and President Jacob Zuma, with Mbeki being accused of being part of a conspiracy to frame Zuma for rape and corruption charges.

In reply on Friday, advocate for the President and Justice Minister, Nceba Dukada, said simply that Heath's claim that he was left in a bad position financially when Mbeki refused to discharge him, was not true, because he went on to form a private consultancy, and was paid millions for his work.

He said Heath had also waited too long to bring the application, and in terms of law, the damages he was hoping to be awarded amounted to debt, and the time to have made the claim for that debt had lapsed.

Judgment was reserved.

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